If you want to give your child the best possible opportunities in life, helping them to have high self-esteem is a great starting point. Children will make mistakes. We can choose to punish them, or we can let them learn from their choices. Self-esteem can seem a bit intangible. We can’t really see it, hold on to it, or touch it in any way. Despite this, we are often acutely aware when it is missing, especially in our children. They can seem to have a very negative opinion of themselves, or they seem unconfident, overly dependent, or conformist. In contrast, children who have high self-esteem are more emotionally mature, more stable, more realistic and they have a higher frustration tolerance. They also tend to be happier and to do better academically.
So if you want to give your child the best possible opportunities in life, then helping them to have high self-esteem is a great starting point. To help you along that road, here are my top 10 tips for building your child’s self-esteem.
1. Remember what you are role-modelling
Children watch us all the time. They take their lead from how we act in the world. It is our actions that give them the strongest guide for their own behaviour. If you find that you are self-deprecating, be aware that your children may learn to do the same. Similarly, if you find that you always say “yes” to things because you don’t want to offend others by saying “no”, you may be giving your children a message that other people’s needs are more important. Even our own expectations of ourselves can be unreasonable, leaving us feeling like we are constantly failing.
2. Give individual attention to your children
I know how busy family life can get. Nevertheless, children will always benefit from a bit of special time with their parent(s). When children feel their parents notice them, it really helps children to develop the self-belief that they are indeed important individually. The individual attention may be just a quick story before bed, or a weekly treat time with one child, or even taking the time to comment specifically to one child about something good and positive they did.
3. Accept your child for who they are
We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. There is no perfect parent and no perfect child. But children need to know that, even when they mess up, they are still loved and cared about. When children make individual choices they need to know that, whatever the outcome, we will not reject or dismiss them.
Often in our approaches to discipline, we can unintentionally make our love seem conditional. Our children may come to believe they are only acceptable to us when they behave in certain ways.
4. Communicate with respect
Our typical response to children’s mistakes is to criticise them and their behaviour. We can easily give children a message of both our disappointment in them and our dismissal of them. We always want our children to be respectful, but we need to think about how respectful we are to them. Think about how many times a day you may say “I don’t care” to your child, in response to their moans, whinges, and demands. We intend to communicate that even though we hear what they want, they can’t have it. However, when we add the “I don’t care,” children can come to believe that we actually don’t care about them.
5. Help children to recognise and understand their feelings
Being a child can be a frustrating experience. When we forget that the demands and restrictions we impose on them trigger feelings in our children, we can easily become angry, dismissive, and critical at their apparent opposition to us. What children learn from this is that their feelings don’t seem to matter to us. So, rather than simply railroading children, we can be empathetic, while still remaining firm about what has to be done. That way, children continue to know that we do understand and care about them, even when we have to go against their desires.
6. Identify their strengths and abilities
Often children focus more on the things they can’t do, than the things they can. In group situations, children will often compare themselves negatively with their peers. Acknowledging what we are good at seems to go a bit against the Irish psyche. However, knowing what we are good at, and what we do well, is at the centre of feeling capable within ourselves. If ever you feel pride in your child’s achievements, it is helpful to encourage them to feel proud of themselves.
7. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities
Making mistakes is part of what makes us human. Almost all of the really significant advancements in science, technology, and medicine are based on experiments involving trial and error. Children will make mistakes. We can choose to punish them for those mistakes, possibly leaving them feeling bad, demotivated, or resentful, or we can let them experience the consequences of their choices, and then encourage them to have another go with the new knowledge they now have.
8. Allow children to make choices and decisions
It naturally follows, therefore, that we have to let children make those choices in the first place if they are to really benefit from the opportunities to learn. It is very tempting to keep ‘bubble-wrapping’ our children to protect them from possible harm or danger. However, if we continue to over-protect them, we will only teach them to be dependent on us. Similarly, if we don’t give children the chance to solve some of the problems they face, then they may come to believe they are helpless and incapable.
9. Encourage effort and acknowledge success
“It’s not the winning that’s important, it’s the taking part that counts.” In terms of building self-esteem there is a lot of truth in this. However, there is lots of research to suggest that competitive sport for under-12s is counter-productive, as children can end up too disappointed and disheartened if they constantly perceive themselves to be failing. It is great for any of us to feel the thrill and achievement of reaching the top or achieving a goal. It is important, too, for children to learn to cope with disappointment, and sometimes sports can be a good and safe opportunity to do so. However, at heart, if children are to feel good about what they are doing, they need to know the effort they are putting in is valuable, even if it doesn’t get them the prize.
10. Allow children an opportunity to contribute
It is important that children get opp-ortunities to do things that are genuinely useful and appreciated. Household chores are a great way to give children responsibility. It gives parents the chance to say “thanks” or “well done”. Children like to feel helpful and useful. We have to let children have a go at being responsible. For sure they’ll mess it up sometimes, but that is just an opportunity to show them how to do it differently next time.